Today's car design students "have got a fantastic opportunity in a very different world," say Citroën designers.
Though the automotive industry has been suffering in many regions in the current economic climate, the next generation of car designers "have got a fantastic opportunity," says Andrew Cowell, Senior Design Manager at Citroën, in conversation with Car Design News at the Royal College of Art, London. "The industry will evolve quite a lot, and these guys (the students on the postgraduate Vehicle Design course) will come out into a very different world."
"They'll start in a very interesting period", says Alexandre Malval, Citroën Design Director and himself a graduate from the RCA course. "The world and the markets are changing, the multimedia environment, new types of engine and powertrain, the architecture of vehicles – and at the same time, every brand in the world has to have a very strong identity and personality.
"There is a very strong design culture across the world, so there is not a single way to express yourself; you have in the future very different aesthetics".
Cowell adds, "Designers have to adapt very quickly, move forwards, be curious in different cultures."
It is potentially, however, "a new golden age of the car industry" for designers, Malval thinks, as there is the chance to create cars with very strong characters; he cites the recent work of Rolls-Royce as an example, as well as Citroën's own DS-line vehicles. "Our role is to observe how the new generation is looking at cars, we have to be open about the future, how they are getting around; the variety of products will be very wide."
Speaking at the presentation of students' work on the Citroën Global Van project, a competition to create a lightweight urban delivery vehicle for the future, Cowell – whose recent projects have included the Nemo and Bipper vans, as well as the DS5 – explains further that young designers have to be versatile and prepared to work on commercial vehicles as well as passenger cars.
"We don't have any specific van designers as such," explains Cowell. "It's a global design team depending on who's available and what the market is". He notes that "a commercial vehicle is actually very complicated because they span a very big market, from a very basic vehicle for fleet operators to a passenger vehicle almost like a sedan."
Though designing a commercial vehicle has to take into account its price and operating costs, with specific constraints, the essential creative process is the same as for a car, the Citroën team say. "For me, it doesn't really change if I'm designing a 60,000-euro sedan or a van," says Senior Designer Lars Taubert, whose CV includes the Tubik concept (2011), a re-imagining of the classic H-Van. "As designers, our purpose is always to make it look as good as possible, it's the same goal. We put the same effort in, the same clay modelling, the same amount of work, the same number of people working on the project – the budget doesn't affect that process."